About the Fiction Contest

by Michael Bowen & r & An uplifting story at Christmastime -- the season of sharing -- might seem a predictable choice. But in "Gratitude" -- the winner of this year's Fiction Contest -- the journey from defeat to possibility is marked with humor and some surprises.

Back in October, we asked for entries; the 19 submissions were winnowed to eight finalists by Inlander Arts and Culture Editor Michael Bowen; our judge, Holly Doering, then selected a winner and two runners-up. We've been doing this every December since 1996, and we're happy to have achieved a kind of milestone in presenting the winner of The Inlander's 10th annual Short Fiction Contest winner, Michael Elaine Alegria's "Gratitude."

The Winner & r & Michael Elaine Alegria, 37, is a native and lifelong resident of Spokane. Michael (pronounced "Michelle") works at home as a medical transcriptionist while trying to keep up with her three children, who attend Trinity Catholic School and North Central High School. Though she "comes across as pretty conservative," she has two tattoos and spent a week last summer with her husband and his Harley at the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. She is still freaked out from having read The Amityville Horror in fourth grade. This is her first short story.

The Artist & r & Ken Spiering created Riverfront Park's beloved "red wagon" sculpture -- officially, "The Childhood Express" -- in honor of Washington state's 1989 centennial. He designed all the official Bloomsday posters from 1992 through 2002. His latest project, "Current Event," will be installed next fall on a 700-foot-long wall separating Spokane Falls Boulevard and the new Convention Center Expansion in downtown Spokane. It will "blend with the flow of traffic [and] the motion of the river and ... will be composed of 2,200 copper circles enameled with blues and greens and purples to imitate the bright colors of fish scales." Spiering lives in Valleyford, Wash.

The Judge & r & Holly Doering has an MFA in fiction (with a short story emphasis) from EWU, where she took a course in Pacific Northwest Lit from Jonathan Johnson. She is currently the book review editor for Spokane & amp; Coeur d'Alene Living and both Web editor and newsletter co-editor for Auntie's Bookstore, where, she says, "Short Stories is my assigned section." She has published short stories, nonfiction and poetry in small literary magazines and is about to finish her first novel.

Here's what Doering has to say about "Gratitude":

"Move over, lost boys -- here come the lost girls! Of the eight stories that made the first cut, "Gratitude" is the only one that gave me an emotional payoff at the end -- an actual physical sensation in my gut. The characters are believable and well-developed, and they grow as the story goes on. The pacing is spot-on. The dialogue, even when internal, is crisp and punchy and does not commit the amateur's mistake of being too dully "representative" -- i.e., boring.

"I also appreciated the way in which the writer sets up stereotypes and knocks them down: "Women are better at this stuff," Gloria thinks with relief when reaching a female 911 operator -- only to find her uncaring and unhelpful. Similarly, Alegria surprises us with what Jewels is capable of, not only what she can no longer do.

"The humor is wry, subtle and delightful -- the incidents with the Post-it Note caused me to laugh aloud. Both Gloria and Jewels are sympathetic characters and we want to root for them. Alegria's insights into their character seem logical and natural. She also avoids the classic mistake of trying to tie up the loose ends in the final paragraph in an 'everything is now resolved' unilateral way. Instead, we are given a real-world and yet satisfying ending."

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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